JOHN HARRIS: 2018 ACADEMY SPORTS + OUTDOORS TEXAS BOWL PREVIEW
The Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl is like the objects outside a car mirror...closer than it appears. It’s coming fast and furiously and we can’t wait. The Vanderbilt Commodores will make their first trip to play in the bowl while the Baylor Bears make their first trip to NRG Stadium since 2010 when Heisman Trophy quarterback Robert Griffin III was under center. In that matchup, RGIII, as he’s affectionately known, and Baylor lost to an Illinois team that featured current Houston Texans star Whitney Mercilus.
Regardless, these teams each finished the year 6-6, but they both won week 13 games that earned them bowl eligibility. The Bears knocked off Texas Tech in Arlington 35-24, while Vanderbilt beat in-state foe Tennessee for the third year in a row to earn a trip to Houston. The Commodores were 3-5 with four games left in the season and a bowl trip looked bleak. But, head coach Derek Mason’s ‘Dores won three SEC games down the stretch to get to those magical six wins. This was also a Vanderbilt team that took Notre Dame, 2018 Playoff participant, to the final gun in South Bend.
Baylor’s season hung in the balance in a late season game against Oklahoma State. After consecutive losses to Texas and West Virginia, Baylor faced the Cowboys in Waco; it was a game in which Oklahoma State led throughout but couldn’t put the Bears away. Down by three late in the game, Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer threw the game winning touchdown to Denzel Mims to beat the bowl bound Cowboys. Mims finished the season as the team’s second leading receiver behind Jalen Hurd, who will miss the bowl game due to an injury he suffered in the finale against Texas Tech. Mims, though, led the team in receiving touchdowns with eight and none bigger than that one against Oklahoma State. Mims will face Vanderbilt cornerback Joejuan Williams in one of the most interesting matchups of NFL talent on the field.
For Vanderbilt, quarterback Kyle Shurmur had a tremendous season. He threw for 2,844 yards, 23 touchdowns and just six interceptions. In his final regular season game as a ‘Dore, he completed 31 of 35 passes (88.6%!!!) for 367 yards and three touchdowns. In fact, in his last five games, he threw nine touchdowns with just one interception and it was no coincidence that Vanderbilt won three of four to close the year in large part because Shurmur took his game to a different level.
It’s an NFL building so I’m going to be focused on some future NFL talent as well. Mims, Williams and Shurmur should all play at the next level in due time. Vanderbilt receiver Kalija Lipscomb and tight end Jared Pinkney are definitely candidates in the future as they still have one year of eligibility remaining. Baylor defensive end James Lynch, just a sophomore, has a bright future to say the least. He was a freshman All-American and led the Bears in sacks as a true sophomore this season.
These teams have only met twice in their history and the third one should be a fun one in Houston. Don’t miss it.